Wig-Wags

Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Archive for January 2008

Railroad Disaster – Gare Montparnasse

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Dimitri Rotov over at Civil War Bookshelf has an interesting post on his blog here in response to my two posts on railroads during the civil war: “Were the North and South Equally Matched… On the Rails” here and “Railroad Generalship” here.

The dramatic photo on his post is that of a French train whose brakes failed at Gare Montparnasse is 1895. If you’re so inclined, you can read about that disaster on the Danger Ahead: Historic Railway Disasters website here.

You can see a larger version of the photo here.

Gare Montparnasse

Written by Rene Tyree

January 31, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Kudos for the New York Times and Google

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I am quite impressed that the New York Times has digitized and made available on the web many of their stories written as far back as the 19th century. I find them extremely useful.

Case in point: In my Historiography class, we are actively discussing German, French and American historians iBancroft Portraitn the 18th and 19th centuries. George Bancroft , pictured right, (see my earlier post on Bancroft here) is a topic of discussion not only because of his status as the preeminent American historian of the 19th century, but because he was heavily influenced by German thought on – among other things – historiography. One topic led to another and eventually to a discussion about Bancroft’s views on slavery. As it turns out, a review of Bancroft’s then upcoming work Literary and Historical Miscellanies, was published in the New York Times on June 12, 1855 and titled “Bancroft on Slavery.” This was easily found using Google search. One can preview the article here and read it in its entirety in pdf format (see snippet below).

How cool is that? I’m sure the New York Times derives benefit from the advertising placed even in their archives section. I’ll put up with a few ads to not have to travel to the library and look up articles on microfiche.

THANK YOU to the good folks (whoever you are) who made this decision at the New York Times. Oh and THANK YOU Google Books for making Bancroft’s Literary and Historical Miscellanies available online in its entirety as well. Now if we can only get more dissertations into Google Scholar.

Bancroft on Slavery pdf

HOW THE SOUTH Could Have Won the Civil War

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Today I received for review a copy of HOW THE SOUTH Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confereate Defeat. Author Bevin Alexander claims to destroy the myth of the inevitability of a Union victory. I plan to read it with open mind.

I haven’t yet determined where to place this book on my virtual bookshelves so for now, it’s filed on shelf three of “Civil War Era and Commentary.”

More to come. 

 The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

ISBN 978-0-307-34599-8

  • Published on: 2007-12-31
  • Released on: 2007-12-31
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 352 pages
  • The Crown Publishering Group (a division of Random House)

    Railroad Generalship

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    Following up on yesterday’s post  “Were the North and South Evenly Matched….on the Rails,” which is essentially about railroad management during the American Civil War, I wanted to add some additional information and links that will allow further exploration if you are so inclined.

    Arguably one of the greatest advantages the North had was in one Herman Haupt (1817 – 1905), a “brilliant railroad engineer” recruited in May of 1862 by General D. C. McCallum to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the USMRR (United States Military Railroad). Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.[i]

    Henry Haupt

    Photo Above: A.J. Russell, photographer. Gen’l H. Haupt, ca. 1862 or 1863. LOT 9209, no. 21 LC-DIG-ppmsca-10341
    Photo Below: Haupt’s torpedo for quickly wrecking wooden bridges CALL NUMBER: LOT 9209, no. 57 [P&P]

    More than any other, Haupt should receive credit for shaping and building the USMRR. He developed general guidelines for using the railroads to provide supplies for the Army of the Potomac. During the fall of 1862, Haupt experimented with methods of destroying and repairing railroads and rail briHaupt's torpedo for quickly wrecking wooden bridgesdges. He developed a torpedo that could destroy a standard Howe Truss bridge, a U-shaped device that could quickly and easily destroy rails by twisting them, and new and faster ways to lay and repair track. Haupt and his engineers also experimented with new ways of bridge construction. As a result, preassembled bridge trestles were mass-produced and then transported in boxcars to areas where bridges needed repair or replacement. The rebuilding of bridges and track after Confederate raids was a never-ending process. Haupt also developed ambulance cars with surgeons and special equipment that increased the chances of survival for the wounded.[ii]

    This quote is from the report summary of the archaeological dig of the Alexandria, Virginia United States Military Railroad Station, a fascinating look at one of the busiest sites of the war.

    By the war’s end, there were 10,000 men in the United States Military Railroad service. Many were ex-slaves.


    Photo Below: Military railroad operations in northern Virginia: men using levers for loosening rails. REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-90111

    men using levers for loosening rails

    Dr. Christopher R. Gabel (OSU and Command and General Staff College) has written an interesting piece titled “Railroad Generalship: Foundation of Civil War Strategy” available here.

    A bibliographical listing of works dealing with railroads during the Civil War (and other American conflicts) is available here.

    © 2007 L. Rene Tyree

    [i, ii] THE BONTZ SITE (44AX103) THE UNITED STATES MILITARY RAILROAD STATION (44AX105) Report Summary by Shirley Scalley, accessed online 1/20/2008 at http://oha.alexandriava.gov/archaeology/pdfs/bontz8.pdf

     

    Were the North and South Evenly Matched…on the Rails?

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    One of the questions that was much debated in class was whether the North and South were evenly matched in the American Civil War? To get the discussion rolling, our professor threw out the following…

    In his interesting study of the American Civil War, Archer Jones argues in Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat (1992), that despite its superior numbers, the Union advantage was greatly diminished by the extent of Southern territory, the intrinsic superiority of the defense over the offense, and the problems of supplying armies over long distances. Jones also states that Northern industrial dominance also proved almost useless in a war that depended less on complex weaponry and ammunition than on the man with the rifle. In Jones’ opinion, the two sides were, in fact, almost evenly matched.[i]

    Our task was to take a stand on whether the North and South were evenly matched. I decided to focus on the very specific area of railroad transportation during the war. Part of my interest in this area comes from my association with friend and rail historian Peter A. Hansen, the editor of Railroad History and author of a number of articles for Trains Magazine. I was able to interview him on the topic and have included a good part of that in the post below. The photo below will be included in the upcoming issue of Railroad History which “is given over to a nearly-encyclopedic overview of every company that ever built steam locomotives in America.”[ii] The principal contributor is John H. White, Jr., former curator of transportation at the Smithsonian Institution.

    Photo: New Jersey Locomotive & Machine-built 4-4-0 Fred Leach near Union Mills, Va., on August 1, 1863, the year after it was built. Its stack and tender have taken cannon shot, and the main rod is missing. It became Orange and Alexandria Warrenton after the American Civil War. Library of Congress: 111-B-185.

    Military Train

    Charles Roland, in his book An American Illiad: The Story of the Civil War, provides a strong case for the American Civil War being considered the “first complete railroad war.” He asserted that the North was well ahead of the South in railroad resources entering into the war with 20,000 miles of rails in 1860 to the South’s 10,000. The railroads of the north were better “linked into systems of trunk lines that covered the entire region.”[iii] There were other things that made the North’s railroads superior. “First, it was dotted with locomotive factories, concentrated particularly in Massachusetts, Paterson, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. All of them remained beyond the reach of Rebel forces, so production was never disrupted. It was never disrupted for want of materials, either, since most of the iron ore and coal were also concentrated in the North.”[iv]

    Station at Hanover Junction, PA

    “In addition, the North’s railroads were almost all built to the standard track gauge of 4’ 8 ½”. That meant the cars could be interchanged from one line to another without the need for time-consuming unloading and reloading of passengers and freight. In the South, the rail network was pretty thin to begin with, and the multiplicity of track gauges hampered operations even more. That was particularly important considering that most of the war was fought on Southern soil. With the notable exception of one shining moment at the First Battle of Bull Run, the South was never consistently able to rush men and materiel to the front by rail. There were just too many obstacles to such smooth operation in most of Dixie.”[v]

    Photo above: Station at Hanover Junction, Pa., showing an engine and cars. In November 1863 Lincoln had to change trains at this point to dedicate the Gettysburg Battlefield. LOC: 111-B- 83.
    Photo below: The four-tiered, 780-foot-long railroad trestle bridge built by Federal engineers at Whiteside, Tenn., 1864. A guard camp is also shown. Photographed by George N. Barnard. LOC: 111-B-482.

    Civil War Tress

    “It’s a little-known fact, but track gauge was the first big standardization issue – in any industry. It seems incredible to us from our modern perspective, but many people were slow to grasp the need for standardization. It had never been needed in the days when every village had its own blacksmith or carpenter, whose products never needed to be used in conjunction with those of the smithy or carpenter in the next town.”[vi]

    Tredegar Iron Works

    Photo above: Tredegar Iron Works. Artist: Alexander Gardener, Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons.

    “The South didn’t have a single locomotive factory of any consequence during the Civil War. Several had made a start during the 1840s and 1850s but failed to survive into the War years – including Richmond’s famous Tredegar Iron Works (see the American Civil War Center’s site at Tredegar Iron Works here). While the firm itself survived until 1956, they produced locomotives only from 1851 to 1860. Even as the storm clouds were gathering, they decided in late 1860 that the locomotive business wasn’t profitable for them, and they retooled the shop for other uses.James Noble Sr.“[vii]

    Photo right (cropped): James Noble Sr. from www.civilwarartillery.com/manufacturers.htm.

    “Aside from Tredegar, the only wartime Southern locomotive factory that’s even marginally worth mentioning was James Noble and Son of Rome, Georgia. They produced only a few locomotives after 1855 and their factory was destroyed by Sherman’s army in 1864. What this means, of course, is that Southern railroads became increasingly dysfunctional as their locomotives were destroyed, since they had no means of replacing them. It also meant that their remaining locomotives were often old, and/or held together by any means possible.”[viii]

    McPherson substantiates this in his book, Battle Cry of Freedom. He indicates that of the 470 locomotives built in the U.S. in 1860; only 19 were built in the South.[ix] According to Hansen, “the production of 470 locomotives in a single year may seem like a large number. But it is less surprising in light of two things. First, railroad mileage in the U.S. had surpassed 30,000, and about 2/3 of that total had been built in the previous decade. Just like new highways today, there was comparatively little traffic on new lines in their first couple of years, but usage mushroomed when people and businesses began to change their previous transportation preferences, and when businesses began to locate along the new lines. When a line began to see more traffic, whether two or five or eight years after it was built, new locomotives were needed to handle it. An economist might say that the need for rolling stock lagged the actual construction by a few years.”[x]

    “Another thing to consider is the poor utilization of assets in those days. Just as standardization was a new concept in the middle of the 19th century, so, too, was asset utilization. The latter concept is quite recent indeed, not being fully understood until just the past decade or so. [Note: Consider that Southwest Airlines ran circles around its competitors for years, chiefly because SWA insisted on having an entire fleet of identical planes, and on keeping them on the ground for only 30 minutes at each stop. The underlying rationale for both policies was better asset utilization. The older airlines are still struggling to apply those same lessons.] A steam engine is a highly labor-intensive beast. It requires constant attention from fireman and engineer alike in order to get maximum productivity while it’s working, and it spends about two hours in the shop for every hour it spends on the road. That time is absolutely necessary to the proper functioning of the machine, since grates need to be shaken, ashes need to be dumped, and moving parts need lubrication. (Tallow was a common valve lubricant in those days before petroleum engineering, and applications had to be repeated frequently.) About once a month, the steam engine’s fire was dumped altogether so the tubes and flues could be inspected. The process of cooling an engine down, inspecting it, and firing it back up typically took 24-48 hours, so there’s a big chunk of unproductive time right there. So the bottom line is that they needed a lot of locomotives in those days!”[xi]

    civil-war-084cropped.jpg
    Photo above: Depot of the U.S. Military Railroads, City Point, Va., 1864. LOC Reproduction #111-B-4860 (This image cropped from original).

    Brilliant Uses of Railroads

    The South did have some success with the use of trains for troop transfer. Johnston’s use of the Manassas Gap Railroad to move his troops to Manassas Junction to reinforce Beauregard was brilliant and no doubt influenced the outcome of that engagement which so demoralized the North. Roland also reviews Bragg’s “almost incredible strategic use of the railroads” against Buell as the latter approached Chattanooga. “The Confederates half-circled the Union army by moving 30,000 from Tupelo, Mississippi, roundabout by way of Mobile and Atlanta to Chattanooga, a movement of some 776 miles.”[xii] Hansen felt that, “while it was true that Bragg’s campaign was a remarkable success in the face of daunting logistics, this was the exception that proves the rule.” The mere fact that he had to detour 776 miles in order to go 300 speaks to the paucity of railroads in the South. And even in his 776-mile detour, he had to port his troops on foot east of Montgomery, where the railroad ended, before he could load them on trains again near Columbus, Georgia. So yes, the railroads helped him win, but I submit that it was his audacity, combined with Buell’s dithering, that gave him the ability to make the best of a questionable asset.”[xiii]

    Hansen added, that “it is worth noting that railroads were the whole reason Chattanooga had such strategic significance. The principal line from Richmond to Atlanta, and the line from Memphis to the east, converged there. Without Chattanooga, the South’s ability to move men and materiel by rail in their own territory was all but gone.”[xiv]

    Thomas Ziek, Jr. came to the same general conclusion in his Master’s Thesis, “The Effects of Southern Railroads on Interior Lines during the Civil War.” He tried to determine whether or not the South enjoyed the advantage of interior lines and concluded that they did not.

    The use of railroads during this conflict placed an enormous physical strain upon the limited industrial resources of the Confederacy, and a great strain upon the intellectual agility of the Confederate High Command. Based upon the evidence studied, and the time-space comparisons of both Northern and Southern railway operations, several conclusions can be drawn: the South entered the war with a rail system that was unable to meet the demands of modern war; the Confederate leadership understood the importance of the railroad and its importance to strategic operations early in the war, but were unwilling to adopt a course of action that best utilized their scarce assets; Union control, maintenance, and organization of its railway assets ensured that it would be able to move large numbers of troops at the strategic level efficiently from early 1863 to the end of the war. Based on these conclusions, the Confederacy lost the ability to shift troops on the strategic level more rapidly than the Union by 1863. This was a result of its physically weakened railroad system and military setbacks which caused Southern railroads to move forces over longer distances.[xv]

    My conclusion, for this area of focus, is that the North and South were NOT equally matched either in their physical rail assets nor in their management of those assets. While the South had some moments of brilliance in their use of railroads, they simply did not have the infrastructure to maintain, let alone expand, the railroads of their region to their greatest advantage.

    © 2007 L. Rene Tyree

    [i] White, Charles, AMU CW500.

    [ii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii, x, xi, xiii, xiv] Hansen, Peter A., Personal interview. Sept. 9, 2007

    [iii, xii] Roland, Charles P. An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War

    [ix] McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom

    [xv] Ziek, Thomas G., Jr., “The Effects of Southern Railroads on Interior Lines During the Civil War.” A Master’s Thesis.

    Death and Injury on the Battlefield – Part II

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    Continuing from the post Death and Injury on the Battlefield Part I here, this post deals with battlefield injuries.

    Confederate Wounded at Smith's Barn with Dr Anson Hurd 14th Indiana Volunteers in Attendance after the Battle of Antietam – Near Keedysville, MD, September 1862Those who were injured on the battlefield first had to either remove themselves or hope they would be helped to a field hospital, usually a tent, house, barn or shed marked by a red flag and located as close to the line of battle as possible.[i] There they might find a surgeon and one assistant surgeon, although there was only one of each per regiment. Getting the large number of wounded to the field hospital was challenging. “Three days after the second battle of Manassas, in August 1862, 3,000 men still lay where they had fallen. The first casualties were not moved until September 9th.”[ii] It wasn’t until after the battle of Antietam that the Union Army established an ambulance corps for removing the wounded from the field.[iii] Amputation

    If shot by a Minie ball, a soft lead bullet fired from a rifle musket, a soldier’s wound was likely to be large because these .58 [caliber] bullets would deform and tunnel on impact.[iv] “Dr. E. I. Howard of the Army of Northern Virginia described the effects of Minie Ball on bone: ‘… wounds of bony structure inflicted by this missile are characterized by extensive fissuring and comminution such as was rarely, if ever, seen when the old smooth Bore musket was the weapon of the soldier.”[v] Amputation was the rule for gunshot or shrapnel wounds that involved major blood vessels or large bones. “Roughly 50,000 amputations were performed by both sides during the Civil War, compared to around 4,000 in the First World War.”[vi] Men shot or severely injured in the abdomen or chest wounds almost always died and so were rarely treated.

    Erysipelas, pyaemia (clots in the veins) septicemia and hospital gangrene were the four major hospital diseases. Erysipelas, or St Anthony’s Fire, was a common problem. This was several years before Lister’s discovery of germ theory. Surgeons operated in unsanitary and unsterile conditions. The lower incidence of wound suppuration in destitute Confederate hospitals has been attributed to the fact that they closed wounds with horse-tail hair which was first boiled, whereas the Northern Army used surgical silk which, although a better product, was not sterile.[vii]

    Those who worked in military hospitals did so at great personal risk. Many of them contracted diseases themselves and perished. Common in the literature is record of the absolute despair that existed there. This would, no doubt, make for a great story in and of itself at some point in the future.

    Further reading:

    • For more on weapons carried during the American Civil War, see the previous post The Weapons they Carried here.
    • For good coverage of how amputations were performed during the Civil War, click here.

    © 2007 L. Rene Tyree

    [i] Penny Johnston, “A Healing History of North and South,” History Today, January 1997 [database on-line]; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000399106; Internet; accessed 29 September 2007. [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid., [v] Ibid., [vi] Ibid., [vii] Ibid.

    Photo credits:

    Confederate Wounded at Smith’s Barn with Dr Anson Hurd 14th Indiana Volunteers in Attendance after the Battle of Antietam – Near Keedysville, MD, September 1862

    Cropped image of Amputation Being Performed in a Hospital Tent – Gettysburg, PA, July 1863. LOC.

    Death and Injury on the Battlefield – Part I

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    One of Ewell’s Corps as he lay on the field, after the battle of the 19th May, 1864.

    On November 24th, I posted a piece on the impact of disease on soldiers in the Civil War [see “On Lice, Disease and Quinine” here]. The following discusses the other side of death during the war, the experience on the battlefield. Please be aware the the following is very graphic. [Photo to left: One of Ewell’s Corps as he lay on the field, after the battle of the 19th May, 1864. ]Battle injuries in the civil war were horrific and many led to death. The journals of soldiers and photographs of the dead tell of injury and death caused by cannon balls, grapeshot, canister, musket balls, bayonets, clubbing and more. Men were decapitated, cut in two, blown apart, shot in head, body, and/or extremities, bashed in the face or skull, disemboweled, burned, dragged, drowned, and/or suffered broken bones. John Beatty provided a glimpse of the carnage typical on most Civil War battlefields in a journal entry describing his pass through the battlefield of Stone River in Tennessee, early in 1863.

    Dead Horses

    I ride over the battle-field. In one place a caisson and five horses are lying, the latter killed in harness, and all fallen together. Nationals and Confederates, young, middle-aged, and old, are scattered over the woods and fields for miles. Poor Wright, of my old company, lay at the barricade in the woods which we stormed on the night of the last day. Many others lay about him. Further on we find men with their legs shot off; one with brains scooped out with a cannon ball; another with half a face gone; another with entrails protruding; young Winnegard, of the Third, has one foot off and both legs pierced by grape at the thigDead Horsehs; another boy lies with his hands clasped above his head, indicating that his last words were a prayer. Many Confederate sharpshooters lay behind stumps, rails, and logs, shot in the head. A young boy, dressed in the Confederate uniform, lies with his face turned to the sky, and looks as if he might be sleeping. Poor boy! what thoughts of home, mother, death, and eternity, commingled in his brain as the life-blood ebbed away! Many wounded horses are limping over the field. One mule, I heard of, had a leg blown off on the first day’s battle; next morning it was on the spot where first wounded; at night it was still standing there, not having moved an inch all day, patiently suffering, it knew not why nor for what. How many poor men moaned through the cold nights in the thick woods, where the first day’s battle occurred, calling in vain to man for help, and finally making their last solemn petition to God![1]

    Dead on Field

    Linderman posits that, even though the men fighting in the Civil War should have been more used to gore and death than those fighting in the next century, “when young soldiers first saw bullets, cannonballs, grapeshot, and canister strike others, their shock was profound. The first surprise was death’s suddenness,” a man alive and animated next to them one moment, and the next, lifeless and shattered. [2]Men splattered with the insides of the man next to them were even more impacted. Also shocking was the magnitude of death. It was not uncommon to see thousands of bodies after a single battle.[3]

    Battlefield Dead

    Many men died agonizing deaths after lying injured on the field for hours or days. Contributing to this were standing orders that prevented a man from stopping his forward motion to help a fallen comrade. Some men were also fearful that doing so would imply cowardice on their part. Also, rarely could a truce be made to remove the injured and dead from the battlefield. The resulting experience for the injured was atrocious. Methods and procedures that would allow for application of first aid and then rapid transport to field hospitals were simply non-existent.

    Buried and Not Buried

    Disposal of bodies was often done carelessly and with little decorum if at all. Given the magnitude and ghastliness of the task, it is little wonder. Depending on the season, bodies awaiting burial, or even after careless burial, bloated and decayed in the heat and could be eaten by animals and insects. [Photo at right depicts the burial of soldier on one side and while an enemy soldier is left unburied.]Next installment… “Injuries on the Battlefield.”

    © 2007 L. Rene Tyree

    Photos from the Library of Congress

    [1] John Beatty, The Citizen-Soldier: The Memoirs of a Civil War Volunteer [book on-line] (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1998, accessed 28 September 2007), 211; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=26979264; Internet.

    [2] Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experiences of Combat in the American Civil War, 124.

    [3] Ibid.